Question: did anyone else ever get those slips of paper in elementary school that said, “You’ve Been Caught Reading!”? If they handed those out to adults, I’d get at least one a day.
Anyway. On to the first batch of books for a new year:
The Time in Between, Maria Duenas
I loved this big, sweeping novel set in Spain and Morocco in the late 1930s/early 1940s. Sira, a dressmaker, jaunts off to Tangiers with her dashing lover, who abandons her. She has to pick up the pieces of her life and literally stitch them back together – in a bold, unexpected pattern. Duenas writes gorgeously about high fashion, exotic locales and espionage, with a wonderful cast of characters. Sira’s voice is enchanting, and while her story carries echoes of Casablanca, it is utterly her own.
Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood
I checked out this first book in the Phryne Fisher series from our library after Marianne mentioned her on Twitter. What a fun mystery-cum-romp through 1920s Australia. Our sleuth/heroine is dazzling, funny, generous and bold. A lighthearted story, with an interesting mystery. Fortunately the series spans 18 books so far – so I can keep reading!
The Orchid House, Lucinda Riley
A sweeping family saga, a tale of an English great house, several intertwined love stories and a fascinating glimpse into Bangkok in the 1940s – what’s not to love? I was intrigued and then absorbed by this tale of love, deception, war and secrets, centering around an estate in northern England. Lush descriptions, believable characters, and ultimate redemption. To review for Shelf Awareness.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith
Rachel told me about this book (the author is her book’s editor), and I read it in just a few hours. Two teenagers meet at JFK and end up sitting together on their overnight flight to London. They’re both on their way to momentous family events, both feeling raw and shaky – so they spend the night talking. And the story doesn’t end once they land. It’s a sweet (but not saccharine) love story, and the characters are refreshingly real. I immediately put Smith’s two other YA novels on my list.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
I love Calico Captive by the same author, but had never read this classic – prompting Sarah (who is blogging about it) to exclaim, “Get on it, woman!” So I did. And I fell in love with Kit Tyler, brought up in Barbados and struggling to fit into Puritan life in Connecticut, and her cast of unlikely friends – all, in some way, misfits like herself. Since moving to New England, I am fascinated by historical fiction set in this area, and this story is a winner. Read it, if you haven’t!
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, Caroline Preston
I heard the author give a talk in November, and enjoyed this elegant book-cum-work-of-art, filled with vintage ephemera from the 1920s. Frankie (don’t call her Frances!) is spunky, sweet and a tad rebellious – she longs to see the Great World, like Betsy Ray, and ends up living in both New York and Paris before coming back home to New Hampshire. A fun story in an absolutely gorgeous medium – take a look inside to see for yourself.
Winter: Five Windows on the Season, Adam Gopnik
I love Gopnik’s work, but didn’t know about this collection till Zoe of Brookline Booksmith blogged about it. Gopnik examines the five “R”s of winter: romantic, radical, recuperative, recreational and remembering. His topics range from Romantic poetry to Arctic explorers, from Thomas Nast to ice hockey to underground cities – and all the while he is typically thoughtful and lyrical. I posted a few quotes from the first chapter last week, and I’m hoping these words will help me through my second Northeast winter.
Flying Too High, Kerry Greenwood
I enjoyed Phryne Fisher’s second adventure – which involves kidnapping, murder, flying lessons, clever tricks to catch the bad guys, and of course, dazzling clothes. Fun to see some of the characters from the first book (like Dot, the faithful maid) again, and to meet a few new ones.
The Sweet Life in Paris, David Lebovitz
As Jaclyn warned, this book made me hungry – for crackly baguettes, warm goat cheese, rich chocolates and other delicious things on offer in Paris. Lebovitz writes with warmth and wry humor about the city he loves, the quirks of Parisians (both humorous and annoying), and the foods he’s discovered while living there. Delectable (though it will make you want to hop a plane to Paris immediately).
The Arm of the Starfish, Madeleine L’Engle
I’d met most of these characters – Adam Eddington, the O’Keefe family, Canon Tallis – before, but this adventure set off the coast of Portugal was new to me. The plot deals with experiments on starfish (which can regenerate their own arms if injured), and how this ability could possibly apply to humans. The plot focused mostly on keeping the information away from the wrong people – I would have liked more exploration of the research itself. Not L’Engle’s best, but still compelling.
Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I promised myself a reread of this series this winter, and this first book was as cozy and fun as I remembered. Corncob dolls, a dance at Grandpa’s house, making maple sugar, churning butter – this is pioneer life at its most delicious. (I did catch a few references to the Civil War that I’d never noticed before.) And oh, how I love Pa and his wise, twinkling blue eyes, and his fiddle singing Laura to sleep.
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